# brain of mat kelcey

## smoothing low support cases using confidence intervals

December 08, 2012 | View Comments

## problem

say you have three items; item1, item2 and item3 and you've somehow associated a count for each against one of five labels; A, B, C, D, E

> data A B C D E item1 23700 20 1060 11 4 item2 1581 889 20140 1967 200 item3 1 0 1 76 0

depending on what you're doing it'd be reasonable to normalise these values and an l1-normalisation (ie rescale so they are the same proportion but add up to 1) gives us the following...

> l1_norm = function(x) x / sum(x) > l1 = t(apply(data, 1, l1_norm)) > l1 A B C D E item1 0.955838 0.00080661 0.042751 0.00044364 0.00016132 item2 0.063809 0.03588005 0.812851 0.07938814 0.00807200 item3 0.012821 0.00000000 0.012821 0.97435897 0.00000000

great... but you know it's fair enough if you think things don't feel right...

according to these normalised values item3 is "more of" a D (0.97) than item1 is an A (0.95) even though we've only collected 1/300th of the data for it. this just isn't right.

purely based on these numbers i'd think it's more sensible to expect item3 to be A or a C (since that's what we've seen with item1 and item2) but we just haven't seen enough data for it yet. what makes sense then is to smooth the value of item3 out and make it more like some sort of population average.

## an average item

so firstly what makes a sensible population average? ie if we didn't know anything at all about a new item what would we want the proportions of labels to be? alternatively we can ask what do we think item3 is likely to look like later on as we gather more data for it? i think an l1-norm of the sums of all the values makes sense ...

> column_totals = apply(data, 2, sum) > population_average = l1_norm(column_totals) > population_average A B C D E 0.5094218 0.0183000 0.4268199 0.0413513 0.0041069

... and it seems fair. without any other info it's reasonable to "guess" a new item is likely to be somewhere between an A (0.50) and a C (0.42)

## mixing

so now we have our item3, and our population average, and we want to mix them together in some way... how might we do this?

A B C D E item3 0.012821 0.000000 0.012821 0.974358 0.000000 pop_aver 0.509421 0.018300 0.426819 0.041351 0.004106

a linear weighted sum is nice and easy; ie a classic `item3 * alpha + pop_aver * (1-alpha)`

but then how do we pick alpha?

if we were to do this reweighting for item1 or item2 we'd want alpha to be large, ie nearer 1.0, to reflect the confidence we have in their current values since we have lots of data for them. for item3 we'd want alpha to be small, ie nearer 0, to reflect the lack of confidence we have in it.

enter the confidence interval, a way of testing how confident we are in a set of values.

## diversion

firstly, a slight diversion re: confidence intervals...

consider three values, 100, 100 and 200. running this goodness of fit test gives the following result.

> library(NCStats) > gofCI(chisq.test(c(100, 100, 200)), conf.level=0.95) p.obs p.LCI p.UCI [1,] 0.25 0.21008 0.29468 [2,] 0.25 0.21008 0.29468 [3,] 0.50 0.45123 0.54877

you can read the first row of this table as "the count 100 was observed to be 0.25 (p.obs) of the total and i'm 95%
confident (conf.level) that the *true* value is between 0.21 (p.LCI = lower confidence interval) and 0.29 (p.UCI = upper confidence interval).

there are two important things to notice that can change the range of confidence interval...

1) upping the confidence level results in a wider confidence interval. ie "i'm 99.99% confident the value is true value is between 0.17 and 0.34, but only 1% confident it's between 0.249 and 0.2502"

> gofCI(chisq.test(c(100, 100, 200)), conf.level=0.9999) p.obs p.LCI p.UCI [1,] 0.25 0.17593 0.34230 [2,] 0.25 0.17593 0.34230 [3,] 0.50 0.40452 0.59548 > gofCI(chisq.test(c(100, 100, 200)), conf.level=0.01) p.obs p.LCI p.UCI [1,] 0.25 0.24973 0.25027 [2,] 0.25 0.24973 0.25027 [3,] 0.50 0.49969 0.50031

2) getting more data results in a narrower confidence interval. ie "even though the proportions stay the same as i gather x10, then x100, my original data i can narrow my confidence interval around the observed value"

> gofCI(chisq.test(c(10, 10, 20)), conf.level=0.95) p.obs p.LCI p.UCI [1,] 0.25 0.14187 0.40194 [2,] 0.25 0.14187 0.40194 [3,] 0.50 0.35200 0.64800 > gofCI(chisq.test(c(100, 100, 200)), conf.level=0.95) p.obs p.LCI p.UCI [1,] 0.25 0.21008 0.29468 [2,] 0.25 0.21008 0.29468 [3,] 0.50 0.45123 0.54877 > gofCI(chisq.test(c(1000, 1000, 2000)), conf.level=0.95) p.obs p.LCI p.UCI p.exp [1,] 0.25 0.23683 0.26365 [2,] 0.25 0.23683 0.26365 [3,] 0.50 0.48451 0.51549

so it turns out this confidence interval is exactly what we're after; a way of estimating a pessimistic value (the lower bound) that gets closer to the observed value as the size of the observed data grows.

note: there's a lot of discussion on how best to do these calculations. there is a more "correct" and principled version of this calculation that is provided by MultinomialCI but i found it's results weren't as good for my purposes.

## back to alpha

awesome, so back to the problem at hand; how do we pick our mixing parameter alpha?

let's extract the lower bound of the confidence interval value for our items using a very large confidence (99.99%) (to enforce a wide interval). the original l1-normalised values are shown here again for comparison.

> l1 A B C D E item1 0.95583 0.00080 0.04275 0.00044 0.00016 item2 0.06380 0.03588 0.81285 0.07938 0.00807 item3 0.01282 0.00000 0.01282 0.97435 0.00000 > library(NCStats) > gof_ci_lower = function(x) gofCI(chisq.test(x), conf.level=0.9999)[,2] > gof_chi_ci = t(apply(data, 1, gof_ci_lower)) > gof_chi_ci A B C D E item1 0.95048 0.00035 0.03803 0.00015 0.00003 item2 0.05803 0.03156 0.80302 0.07296 0.00614 item3 0.00000 0.00000 0.00000 0.79725 0.00000

we see that item1, which had a lot of support data, has dropped it's A value only slightly from 0.955 to 0.950 whereas item3 which had very little support, has had it's D value drop drastically from 0.97 to 0.79. by using a conf.level closer and closer 1.0 we see make this drop more and more drastic.

because each of the values in the `gof_chi_ci matrix`

are lower bounds the rows no longer add up to 1.0 (as they do in the l1-value
matrix). we can calculate how much we've "lost" with `1 - sum(rows)`

and it turns out this residual is pretty much
exactly what we were after when we were for our mixing parameter alpha!

> gof_chi_ci$residual = as.vector(1 - apply(gof_chi_ci, 1, sum)) > gof_chi_ci A B C D E residual item1 0.95048 0.00035 0.03803 0.00015 0.00003 0.01096 item2 0.05803 0.03156 0.80302 0.07296 0.00614 0.02829 item3 0.00000 0.00000 0.00000 0.79725 0.00000 0.20275

in the case of item1 the residual is low, ie the confidence interval lower bound was close to the observed value so we shouldn't mix in much of the population average. but in the case of item3 the residual is high, we lost a lost by the confidence interval being very wide, so we might as well mix in more of the population average.

now what i've said here is completely unprincipled. i just made it up and the maths work because everything is normalised. but having said that the results are really good so i'm going with it :)

## smoothing things out then

putting it all together then we have the following bits of data...

> l1 # our original estimates A B C D E item1 0.95583 0.00080 0.04275 0.00044 0.00016 item2 0.06380 0.03588 0.81285 0.07938 0.00807 item3 0.01282 0.00000 0.01282 0.97435 0.00000 > population_average # the population average A B C D E item1 0.50942 0.01830 0.42681 0.04135 0.00410 > gof_chi_ci # lower bound of our confidences A B C D E item1 0.95048 0.00035 0.03803 0.00015 0.00003 item2 0.05803 0.03156 0.80302 0.07296 0.00614 item3 0.00000 0.00000 0.00000 0.79725 0.00000 > gof_chi_ci_residual = as.vector(1 - apply(gof_chi_ci, 1, sum)) > gof_chi_ci_residual # how much we should mix in the population average [1] 0.01096 0.02829 0.20275 0.40759

since there's lots of support for item1 the residual is small, only 0.01, so we smooth only a little of the population average in and end up not changing the values that much

> l1[1,] A B C D E item1 0.95583 0.00080 0.04275 0.00044 0.00016 > gof_chi_ci[1,] + population_average * gof_chi_ci_residual[1] A B C D E item1 0.95606 0.00055 0.04270 0.00060 0.00007

but item3 has a higher residual and so we smooth more of the population average in and it's shifted more much strongly from D towards A and B

> l1[3,] A B C D E item3 0.01282 0.00000 0.01282 0.97435 0.00000 > gof_chi_ci[3,] + population_average * gof_chi_ci_residual[3] A B C D E item3 0.10329 0.00371 0.08653 0.80563 0.00083